It is silly season, but even so I’m surprised at how the chugging issue has taken off. It’s got a fair chunk of coverage via the media and generated a rather pleasing set of supportive emails and messages for me.

What is absolutely bizarre, however, has been the response of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority (PRFA) who seem to have what can best be described as a bunker mentality. They are currently pushing the line that it’s all a set-up. In an article in Third Sector (registration required) the PRFA accused Wandsworth and Westminster of conspiring to orchestrate a campaign against chuggers:

Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the PFRA, said he suspected the two Tory-run councils were orchestrating a campaign against street fundraising.
“I suspect that formally or informally Westminster and Wandsworth have been conferring,” he said. A spokeswoman for Westminster denied this.

I’ll deny it too. The timing of our press release had far more to do with the fact I spent most of last week in Lincolnshire with a very poor internet connection and only approved it this week. There’s no recent mention of chuggers on Westminster Council’s website and I imagine they told journalists about their plans to take advantage of the publicity.

Perhaps the PRFA don’t realise two councils independently expressing concern – supported by huge numbers of residents – might actually be a sign their chuggers are a real problem and councils, quite rightly, want to do something about it.

Rather than portraying themselves as the victims, they should be thinking about the thousands of people who are victims of hassle, harassment and haranguing from chuggers on our high streets every day.

8 thoughts on “The chuggers strike back

  1. But James these lovely charities are untouchable they never do anything wrong. Mislead in their advertising – the NSPCC would never do that (! Bothering passers-by is now so central to the fund-raising efforts of many charities – they have to stop Councils defending their residents and visitors. The national charities have become just big businesses – sucking up local contracts that used to go to local charities (look at how much NCH now gets from statutory authorities including councils). Go get ’em!

  2. Shall I tell you what I found bizarre councillor Cousins? It’s that, after one of your officials contacted us on July 17 to talk to us about fundraising in Tooting, and we then invited her to meet with us on 21 July, 27 July and then again 11 August (each time receiving a brush off), we only found out that you weren’t going to meet us (and it would seem never had any intention of doing so) though the media of council press office and the Standard newspaper.

    Your press release talks of having received an “unsatisfactory response” from the PFRA. What more did you expect after an initial contact than ‘lets get together and talk it over’? Seems like a satisfactory way to go about things to me. Or did you just expect us to say: ‘Oh of course councillor Cousins, we’ll do whatever you tell us to do?’

    BTW – I saw your Tweet where you said that PFRA had issued an “outrageous” press release that accused Wandsworth of lying about street fundraising. Perhaps your officials have not been keeping you in the loop. I can let you have the email stream where we three times asked for a meeting if this would help clarify the situation for you.

    Actually, the last brush off, er, I mean email, from the official(dated two working days before your press release was issued) says she couldn’t fix a meeting because some people were on holiday (presumably you were one of them). So while your holiday precluded setting a meeting date with us, you still had enough time to sign off the press release. I am right, aren’t I, in inferring that the press release was written and awaiting your approval before we were sent the email on 13 August saying yet again deferring setting a meeting date?

    Wandsworth’s stance appeared in a Standard story alongside Westminster council’s announcement that they had ‘imposed’ new rules for chuggers (when in fact all they had done was to meet with us once to discuss how the agreement between us and Westminster a year ago might be amended). So I am sure you can understand why we were suspicious that you’d colluded somehow.

    However, thanks for clearing this up and stating that you (the corporate ‘you’, Wandsworth council and its officials) did not collude with Westminster, such as by co-ordinating the timings of your press releases, or by discussing between the two of you your respective relationships with the PFRA). Your denial is good enough for us.

    So, do you want to meet the PFRA to discuss the situation in Tooting or not? If you do, you can contact us directly via email or phone, you can get an official to email us to set up a meeting, or you can announce you’re coming through a press release, blog, Tweet or an interview with the South London Press. Whichever way you choose to arrange a meeting with us, we’ll be glad to meet you.

    However, if you don’t want to meet with the PFRA to discuss Tooting, why not just come right out with it now, on your blog, so at least your colours are nailed to the mast?

    Ian MacQuillin
    Head of Communications
    Public Fundraising Regulatory Association

    PS, that’s ‘Association’, not ‘Authority’

  3. We can argue about correspondence endlessly. As you know, we have letters dating back to 2000 between ourselves the Institute of Fundraising (from which you were formed) and chugging companies. Personally, I think 9 years trying to find a solution is more than enough. Unfortunately, in all that time you have failed to manage the chugging problem in Tooting Broadway, and, I would argue, elsewhere since Tooting Broadway is not alone in Wandsworth – or the country – in suffering the ill-effects of chugging.

    The very fact that you, by your own admission, didn’t even bother to investigate Tooting Broadway when it was raised with you (instead referred to its profitability for your members) rather suggests that the only solution you consider acceptable is for chugging to be allowed at your, rather than businesses’, shoppers’ or residents’ convenience.

    Our job is to represent the people who live and work in our borough. If we can find a solution we will, and if we need more powers (such as licensing powers) we will call for them. As I have discovered from my correspondence, and watching the debates develop elsewhere, if anything we’ve let down local residents by giving you nearly a decade to fail to come up with a solution.

    As you know, and as we have made quite clear on several occasions, we do not feel Tooting Broadway is a suitable location for chugging and have asked you to remove it from your list of sites. I am not sure how much clearer we can be about it, especially as, at every stage, you have failed to address that request. I am not sure what value a meeting would be unless you can even acknowledge this request.

  4. So that’s a ‘no’ then, is it? Well, let it be on record that we have asked you to come to the table to discuss this situation and you have refused.

    Your job is indeed to represent your constituents (both residential and business). This gets to the nub of the issue: you see your duty as upholding your residents’ perceived ‘right’ not to be asked to support charities by a method that you personally and some of your constituents object to; charities that use F2F street fundraising believe they have an equivalent right to fundraise in support of their goals by using the most effective and cost-efficient methods.

    I would have hoped that you could have seen the bigger picture and talked to us about how we can accommodate both positions, so that we could find a mutually acceptable compact that allayed the concerns of your residents while allowing charities to ask the people of Tooting to redress certain wrongs in the world. And, as many charities using F2F work in London – indeed, some have local branches in Wandsworth – they are also asking your constituents to support provision of services that some of them might well need and use.

    We have made agreements like this with other London boroughs and many local authorities throughout the UK and we at the PFRA had hoped that we could also reach agreement over Tooting.

    I therefore hope that you will reconsider your position not to engage with the PFRA.

    Ian MacQuillin
    Head of Communications

  5. Just to restate, we have been raising this with you and your predecessors for 9 years before getting to this stage. It’s a bit rich to now offer a meeting, even then still not accepting there’s a problem, and pretend it is us who are being somehow intransigent.

    It is, perhaps, part of the reason we have spent 9 years getting nowhere – which has been very frustrating for me and I’ve only been involved for 3 years. If you want to accept my response as a ‘no’ by all means do that, but to do so you also have to accept that we’ve spent nearly a decade getting nowhere with you.

    Your persistence in trying to paint this as an issue with a single council is admirable, but surely the response to this has shown that this is not just a Wandsworth issue, but a national issue with people across the country able to share stories of aggressive chugging, high-pressure sales tactics and some incredibly dubious methods of getting attention and guilting people. We can quibble about correspondence all you like but it only detracts from the real issue that high streets everywhere suffer the actions of chuggers – and that’s what you purport to regulate.

  6. Councillor Cousins

    I am afaid we have to quibble about correspondence because it shows your intransigence not ours.

    You imply that you have been in constant contact with the PFRA trying to resolve Tooting for nine years. You know very well that is is not the case.

    In 2002, your official approached us about fundraising on Tooting Broadway. We agreed to voluntarily suspend fundraising in Tooting and removed it from our site allocation system pending a meeting. We met with the Tooting Town Centre Mangement Board in September 2002 and drafted a trial site management agreement, which we sent to the council. We never heard back so this was never approved, but Tooting remained suspended from our London site diary and it still is. Fundraisers have visited Tooting sporadically outside of our diary system since then and in greater numbers this summer which is when you resumed contact with us.

    We had no contact with you over Tooting between October 2002 and July 17 2009.

    You have hit the nail on the head – this is an issue with a single council and the single council is yours. We have functioning, amicable relationships with 80-plus local authorities covering most of the major connurbations in the UK (the main places charities wish to fundraise) including some that have come to us on their own initiative to discuss access for fundraisers. Why are we having such a problem talking to you?

    I apologise if I misconstrued your “I am not sure what value a meeting would be” remark as an indication that you don’t want to meet us. Clearly my error.

    I feel that I can do little more at this stage than to reiterate that we would like to meet with you to discuss the issue of fundraising in Tooting at which you can present your arguments to us. I am still unsure whether you wish to do that same.

    PFRA will await your response through official channels.

    Ian MacQuillin
    Head of Communications

    • I am afraid I cannot allow that comment to go without response.

      As I have stated repeatedly, our correspondence goes back to 2000 – the first letter I have seen dates to June 2000. I personally wrote to the PFRA in 2006 shortly after taking my current post within the council because officers had been unable to reach a solution and felt it needed escalating – on that occasion it went nowhere. It may be that your office has lost or misfiled the correspondence, which I understand happens, but your claim that we have not contacted you for seven years is simply not true. It does you no credit to repeat so often.

      I respect your opinion that this is a problem with just one council. Unfortunately the evidence of a number of radio shows, national newspaper articles and online discussions recently shows that chugging is seen as a problem everywhere. You should, perhaps, concentrate your efforts on that rather than just this blog.

  7. very briefly, i have had a similarly tedious experience corresponding with ian macquillin of the PFRA.

    he contacted me after i simply tweeted about how unpleasant the chuggers are in a place where i often work.

    he kept offering for us to have a meeting, and a discussion, and a chat, and he could reassure me, etc.

    i was very enthusiastic about recording a podcast, unedited, posting the mp3 free online, with us discussing the issues, so everyone could hear. he declined and kept offering this off the record meeting for a chat.

    it’s a recurring theme in PR. they think everything can be cured with an off the record chat. maybe they think they will charm you. my view is it’s a tedious waste of time, and all too often, in my experience, it is an opportunity either to: (a) obfuscate on issues, refuse to go on the record, but then subsequently claim that they’ve told you something (this is a technique used extensively by Jeni Barnett and LBC during their MMR legal threats debacle) or (b) massively mislead, as at the end of this column:

    in any case, when you decline to go for this pointless meeting, they claim you’ve been obstructive, as above. presumably there’s some PR textbook where this kind of dreariness is taught.

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